I think the death of Robin Williams has had a profound impact on many people and in my eyes his death was meaningful for that reason. His suicide got our attention and shocked us awake. His pain sent us a message we often don’t want to acknowledge – life can be challenging. None of us go through life without a struggle or two and we all have that in common.

                                                 We are all the same…hearts are hearts.

It’s for that common bond that I enjoy my time spent with folks whose road is rockier than others. I can say I enjoy helping people who are often marginalized by our society due to its reticence regarding their mental illness or addictions, etc., and I do…but I often think I’m getting much more out of it than they are. My heart receives bountiful gifts from some of the most generous members of our society; there’s really no such thing as a selfless act.

As I spend time with people struggling with life’s challenges, I am continually warmed by their genuine authenticity, their open vulnerability and their generosity.

                                    Have you ever wondered why the people who have been 
                                         the most humbled are usually the most generous?

The folks who have so little to lose have so much to give and that draws me in for they have some of the wealthiest, richest, warmest hearts I’ve ever known.

And so it happened I came to know Mike, a man in his late 40’s who struggles with a mental illness and a subsequent drug addiction. He doesn’t have a home, a car, or a job but Mike has a heart. The pain from his depression is palpable at times yet few people have made me laugh more than Mike. His heart…like Robin Williams’s…resides smack dab on his sleeve and his sense of humor is one of the healthiest things about him. In the short amount of time I have known him, Mike has struggled with a lot of challenges but through it all he has had the ability to laugh…a wit so dry and sardonic that he pokes fun at his own illness.

Mike sought me out a few weeks ago and asked if we could talk. We found a quiet place and I was concerned by the angst on his face as I sat quietly and prepared to listen. He began by saying he didn’t know what to do…it was the worst thing that’s ever happened to him…and he couldn’t eat or sleep. My mind was racing with what I knew about Mike…homeless, without family, without much support, no money, mentally ill and trying to stay off drugs. Was he going to talk about wanting to kill himself? Without providing details he talked in circles, “It’s awful, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, please Haven help me, tell me what to do…”.

As I listened, he finally found the words to describe what he was going through. He had fallen in love with a woman who didn’t love him back. Mike wasn’t distraught because of all the things I had presumed he would be upset about…this went much deeper than that. He loved someone who didn’t love him. Mike had a broken heart. He didn’t want to talk about finding a place to sleep that night, he wanted to talk about his broken heart.

I looked at Mike for a moment and then I saw it: His resiliency was shining brightly and his humor was still alive and well. And I began to laugh. I didn’t laugh at him. I laughed at the recognition of our bond…hearts are hearts…and it doesn’t matter who you are…when your heart hurts it can feel like the worst thing in the world. When we are in that place there is little we can do…except laugh. And as I laughed, Mike began to laugh which resulted in the two of us laughing louder. It was a laughter of solidarity, a wordless language of recognition: no one gets to waltz through life and at that moment, two hearts were laughing – it wasn’t about homelessness, poverty, mental illness or addiction. It was about human heartache and the understanding that we are all the same. As we sat and laughed very little separated Mike’s life from mine.

                                                                  Hearts are Hearts

It was one of the purest moments I’ve shared with another person and all the more special because it was with an adult who had let down his defenses in order to let me in. Mike has a lot of strikes against him, his life is difficult and odds are he will die far sooner than he would if he didn’t have a mental illness. But Mike has three qualities that many people will never own: the strength required to be vulnerable, the courage it takes to open his heart and the ability to laugh through it all. The result is Mike’s heart, while currently broken but mending, is full of love and generosity and we’d all be better off with more of that in our lives.

                The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched,
                                          they must be felt with the heart.       – Helen Keller


Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


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